Leaf lettuce grows in the Salinas Valley. (File Photo)

MONTEREY COUNTY — Monterey County’s crop production increased in value last year by more than $500 million despite decreases in both wine grapes and cannabis, according to the county’s 2022 Crop and Livestock Report.

Overall gross crop and livestock production was over $4.6 billion in 2022, up from about $4.1 billion in 2021, a 13% increase. That includes over $1 billion in organic crop production.

“The fact that there’s been some growth, this year, I think it’s a testament to having a vibrant industry in the aftermath of the pandemic,” said county Board of Supervisors chair Luis Alejo after the report was presented by County Agricultural Commissioner Juan Hidalgo at the board’s regular meeting July 25.

Alejo recommended including in next year’s report more information on the farmworkers who make up the valuable industry, which is ranked fourth among counties in the nation for the value of crop and livestock production, according to Hidalgo.

A 2022 report by the county’s Workforce Development Board estimated there were about 41,000 farmworkers in the county in 2021. A 2017 report from a Farmworker Advisory Committee established by the Board of Supervisors put the number at as many as 50,000 that work in the industry annually. 

There were more than 1.3 million acres dedicated to farming in Monterey County last year, including about 830,000 acres of pastureland and 360,000 acres of cropland.

The top crop in 2022 was strawberries, which recorded about $959 million in gross sales, followed by leaf lettuce, with $842 million in production, head lettuce (also known as iceberg) with $546 million and broccoli with $519 million.

A virus known as Impatiens necrotic spot virus, or INSV, had an effect on lettuce yields in 2022, but increased demand kept prices high enough to increase the value of those crops, Hidalgo said.

Hidalgo said warmer fall temperatures impacted wine grape production, which was down 20% in 2022 compared to 2021, falling to about $174 million from $218 million. 

Cannabis cultivation is counted separately from other crops, but if it were included, it fell from what would be third top crop in the county to the sixth, from $618 million in 2021 to $283 million in 2022, a reduction of 54%.

The cannabis industry continued to struggle as a statewide contraction of the industry last year caused both the state and the county to make changes to cultivation tax rates. The state eliminated the tax and the county reduced it and came up with back-payment schedules to try to prevent growers from being shut down for delinquent payments.

Supervisor Mary Adams said the failure of the local cannabis industry fell on the Board of Supervisors.

“That’s on our shoulders, and I was very disappointed for us, that it’s not gone well,” Adams said.

Acreage of lemon trees increased from about 1,300 acres in 2021 to over 2,000 acres in 2022, which Hidalgo said was a short-term trend. 

“There’s a little bit of a hidden secret that, it just so happens, growers are beginning to figure out that we have unique weather to produce lemons in our county,” Hidalgo said.

Still, the value of lemons per ton fell significantly, so the overall gross receipts were only $5 million greater in 2022 than 2021, despite the increased acreage.

Garlic also saw a sizable jump in both acreage and overall value, becoming the 13th most valuable crop in Monterey County in 2022, with roughly a thousand additional acres planted compared to 2021, when it ranked 21st in value. Garlic brought in more than $72 million in 2022, up from about $39 million in 2021.

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